07.24.2014 - 08.11.2014
What can dress signify in this age of runaway fashion and transnationally consumed, almost disposable, garments?
Dress can framed as subjective expressions of individuality or, conversely, symptomatic of larger structural phenomenon. On the other hand, the works of visual artist Marina Cruz have over the years delved into the use of fabric as surface and signifier, of dress as both object of aesthetic pleasure and subject of personal narrative. These are images where social history, aesthetic pleasure and personal testimony converge.
The exhibition features a series of ten paintings in oil on canvas, made between 2013 to 2014. They portray various dresses discovered in her grandmother’s closet, lovingly folded and set aside while exhibiting the wear and stains of time. The pieces, mostly dating half a century back to the 1950s and the 1960s, belong to two generations of women: worn by her grandmother, her mother and aunts during their childhood and youth.
Cruz’s act of salvaging these objects from the archival anonymity began in art school, in the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts. She was looking for materials to be used for a collograph plate in her Printmaking classes and ended up discovering cabinets filled with old clothing in her maternal grandmother’s house. She started by using a torn kulambo (mosquito net) for its grid textures and later on explored the use of dresses as both material and image for her later works. In an interview, Cruz recalls how this exercise led to a fascination with the dress as a subject for artistic production. She narrates:
“I kept on looking at the various materials, blankets, and clothing and found the baptismal dresses of my mom and her sisters. It was a pivotal moment for me that time. The garments and babies’ dresses were so beautiful yet damaged. Brittle because of time. It made me reflect on how small my mom is. Touching the garments, smelling its unique scent gave me goosebumps. Imagining your mother so fragile, tiny as a baby, is just magical and surreal. So I decided to look into the dresses as subject matter and started to know a lot about my family history.”
In 2010, she started making paintings of dresses juxtaposed against dark backgrounds, and later on made a series of dresses on fabric. This series, on the other hand, portrays the contours and patterns of individual garments, exploring the tactile and visual qualities of fabric as a form of abstraction.
Usually, dresses and garments are associated with very personal memories or, conversely, starkly functional purposes. Cruz does not frame the object in solely personal terms and instead reveals a fascination with their formal qualities, such as texture, shape, line, composition and color. This is evident in the titles that she assigns to the paintings. The texts are straightforward, almost taxonomic, descriptions, choosing not to further disclose details of ownership, context, or biographic narrative. The symbolic shift in language signifies a nuance within the artist’s intention: to not just portray these objects as sentimental illustrations of personal narratives but to also lead the viewer to discern formal beauty and harmony in forms based on garments.
The affective lure of textile patterns, for instance, is compellingly drawn out through works such as White Spots on Red (2013). In this painting, the ubiquitous polka dot print is refreshingly portrayed with the use of contrasts between colors. Pleats, holes, and invisible zippers peeking through trimmings impart a sense of texture and flowing symmetry to what would have otherwise been a monotonous textile pattern. Cruz’s choice of oil on canvas also aptly captures the worn yet still saturated hues of faded print textiles.
Almost standing inversely to this work is Red and White Stripes (2013), which presents a substantially more muted composition and palette. Here, vertical red lines and white trimmings are rendered delicately with light yet precise brushwork. These two red and white paintings strike an interesting contrast: the former seems to dominate one’s field of vision with its purity and saturation of colour while the latter stands as an almost introspective space to retreat to, with its careful and measured rendering of line.
Two other paintings also feature a predominantly red palette, which Cruz has masterfully rendered throughout this series. White Wave-like Wrinkles (2014) presents a refined and almost luminous contrast between red-orange lining and cream gradations of cotton and lace embroidery. Specks and swatches in Faded Red (2014) hint at the intense scarlet shade that must have stained the fabric’s surface.
Cruz continues these formal explorations of color and structure in the rest of the show. The compositional unity of Yellow, Black and White (2014) demonstrates how a dress can resonate with the formal unity of works in geometric abstraction, such as that of Russian Suprematist painter Kazimir Malevich. Other works display a hint of whimsy, such as Light Pink Stripe and Blue Stars (2014), which incorporates dainty patterns and rosettes, and Green Dessert (2014), which draws out interesting contrasts between peach and green, zipper and crease.
The series, however, extends beyond a formal play of planes and color, suspended in a state of formal abstraction. It goes on to deconstruct dress as both aesthetic form and historical object. For Cruz looks closely at the actual material qualities of clothing, painstakingly portraying the little sites of imperfections found in these forms: a tear cutting through fabric, wrinkles that come with wear and storage, stains and folds that refuse to fade. Rust and dust, for instance, permeate the gentle folds of the work Pale White Ruffles with Freckles (2014), while small threadbare areas and holes strike a balance with the strong print patterns of Blue and White with Scars (2014).
These flaws, Cruz believes, all accompany the process of aging, which is inevitable to both the garment and its wearer. “Dresses are like second skin to humans. I am going back to the feeling of looking at the material of the dress and reflecting on the process of aging,” she said. Dirty White (2013) demonstrates how the translucent and transient quality of worn fabric can also mirror the graceful passing of the years, uncovered as a fleeting fragment of what has passed.
Indeed, revisiting dress through Cruz’s paintings affirms these encounters with transience and the solace it brings. In this time where the overproduction of goods has caused things and experiences to be almost disposable and dispensable, these images gently goad the viewer to uncover and hold steadfastly onto history, to find out more about the past which grounds us all.
Written by: Lisa Ito
07.24.2014 - 08.11.2014
“In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” - Rev. 22:2
Some cursed that they were nowhere near the biblical rivers, even so, others didn’t mind because they longed for a more ancient book; not the kind written on parchment or stone or copper but on sheaths of tree bark, and all were glad that there were neither snake dragons nor eagle-headed gods and adoring priests in attendance. They saw no three-rooted Yggdrasil, no glowing Kabbalah tree; no sacred Tooba, Wacah Chan, Bodhi, or Maize of the Navaho; no Egyptian lotus tree, no Gelug lineage, no cross at Golgotha or Palenque.
Theirs was a vernacular journey, and at the summit of Mt. Madya-as where the god Sidapa resides; they counted the notches on the bark of their world tree and were assured. Some took the alternate route to the Siasad of Maka-ako for comparison and were not disappointed.
They crossed rivers and seas to reach Bukidnon and have had to pass through the great rock, Liyang of Kapiliran. At Binagbasan, they in turn gnawed at the bark and ate of the fruit of the Tree of Record, and danced to exhaustion for the atonement of their sins at Pinagsayawan. Those who were later allowed to proceed- had their hair cut at Panamparan and were finally ushered to the banquet table at Kumbirahan.
At the end of the feast, every one was transformed into the soul of a germinating seed.
07.24.2014 - 08.11.2014
Lyra Garcellano simulates an art fair environment and deprives it of its saccharine glory. The artist’s silent, nearly austere, treatment of the space offers a critique on normative transactions occurring in the art world. Taking a cue from the ubiquity of the fair booth, Garcellano reformats the enclosure complicit in the outright display of art as luxury commodities or covetable goods. A carefully laid out décor occupies the space, all set to accommodate a sortie of art agents. The sparse spatial configuration features a methodical display of business cards for dissemination and keeping. Though tiny, these crucial paraphernalia activate the receiver’s preconceived notions of gender, ethnicity and national identities, institutional and collective affiliations, in a contested arena where global exchanges take place in varied forms and levels.
In Double Consciousness, the artist’s presence is pronounced in a video where she verbally declares her Filipino identity. The affirmation is articulated in languages listed as the most influential in the world. An updated roster of world biennials and new art regions is referenced, and the popular languages employed in these places are teased out.
Garcellano utters her statement in words comprehensible to her perceived audience. Learning and conforming to alien tongues reinforce translation as an urgent and empowering process in globalized settings. As Terry Smith writes, translation “becomes a medium of necessity, of possibility, and hope.” It is at once a form of currency and a mode of understanding in regions that acquire geopolitical significance by virtue of its capacity to organize large-scale exhibitions and other corollary initiatives.
Amid a flurry of introduction and self-performance that is likely to occur in situations where otherness and difference prove dangerously advantageous, Garcellano conjures a dispassionate image of a Filipino artist. Garbed in black and seated in front of an empty backdrop, she resists associations that purport her Filipino identity. But what does it mean to be Filipino, anyway? How does a Filipino present himself/herself to others? How is s/he regarded on the international stage?
Double Consciousness is tangential to Garcellano’s earlier work titled A Filipino Girl. In the latter, misconceptions about the artist’s national identity are addressed in a sardonic voice. Appropriating photographs of the early 20th century, Garcellano subverts the colonial other’s gaze.
In her most recent work, Garcellano resists a costumed identity and branding by nationality from other individuals in the field. The artist revisits the lingering questions now, at a time when she finds herself becoming a more deeply engaged participant of the global art world’s often subtle yet aggressive workings.
Written By: Louise Marcelino